Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) Order 2016 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 18 July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 8:30, 18 July 2016

My Lords, I want first to draw attention to my interest declared in the register as a member of Sheffield City Council. I also welcome the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, to his post and wish him well in taking forward the direction of travel on devolution.

As somebody who lives in one of the areas affected, Sheffield, I want to say that on the whole we welcome devolution; we welcome powers coming down to us for our great industries and powers that a municipal area will have to try to ensure that, socially, economically and environmentally, it prospers. However, there are issues regarding the legitimacy of an elected mayor in this area. In 2012, 127,400 people went to a ballot box to answer the question of whether they wished to have a directly elected mayor. Two out of three said no. Something called the Assembly North has brought together citizens across all four areas specifically to look at this deal and the proposal for a mayor. Eighty per cent of people who were asked said that they did not support the proposal for a directly elected mayor.

It is clear that a small number of people have decided that we are to have a mayor. Those people are the Government and the leaders of the authorities, because that is the only deal on the table if they wish to have the powers. I ask the Minister: how it can be that, when in 2012 some 127,000 people went to the ballot box and said no, without any discussion or negotiation they now find themselves in a position of having a mayor?

With regard to the £30 million, as a citizen and now as an elected member of Sheffield City Council, I have been asking whether this is capital, revenue or a combination of both. I have not been given a specific answer. I assume it is both but I ask specifically: is the £30 million allowing for both revenue and capital?

I also want to raise an issue that a number of noble Lords have raised—boundaries. I support my noble friend Lord Shipley. It is down to local autonomy. If we are to have devolution, areas must decide whether they wish to be part of a combined authority and part of electing the new directly elected mayors. However, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised some important issues. Let us take a number of the powers that are to be devolved—transport and roads, for example. The two authorities Chesterfield and Bassetlaw have other authorities in between them. If strategic decisions are to be made around the economic linkage of the totality of the area, what role does the Minister envisage Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire County Councils having when there may be something contradictory that they wish to do? It is a really important issue. We could have two different policy pushers that pull against each other and create confusion. What will happen? The original Bill stated that devolution would happen only if it still allowed the effective functioning of existing local government. In such areas as transport, what would happen?

Again, on skills, businesses in the area could have opposing skill systems in place for one functioning economy. While I support both Chesterfield and Bassetlaw coming in, there are questions about how and who holds court in terms of the differences that could happen.

Like my noble friend Lord Shipley, I understand that the Explanatory Memorandum states at paragraph 7.7 that further orders will come into place, even though a mayor could be elected. The powers may not have been agreed. This is specifically important for this area because the Minister may not know—his officials and the previous Minister will know—about the deal agreed on 22 October between the leaders of South Yorkshire and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Within weeks, the leader of Sheffield City Council said she could not support that deal. That caused confusion and mayhem for local businesses in the area. She specifically mentioned two issues. The issue about areas such as Chesterfield and Bassetlaw being allowed to join if they so wished has been resolved.

The other was to do with the veto of the mayor on the combined authority. I would like the Minister to confirm this so that there is clarity in South Yorkshire because no one from the Government’s side has clarified this yet. According to the Yorkshire Post, the veto of the mayor could be dissolved by a vote of those authorities that decide to join the new combined authority, even though the veto may be in the order. Has that issue been solved? If so, what is the resolution to that particular issue? As I said, I welcome the order on the whole, but there are serious questions that need to be addressed if we are to see this work as effectively and powerfully as I think all noble Lords in this House wish to see.